The Bedtime Blues

cranky toddler photo

Bedtime issues are frequently emotionally charged for parents of young children. Parents who have trouble getting their kids into bed or staying in bed throughout the night feel sleep-deprived, have less patience than they would under normal circumstances and often feel resentful toward the child they love so dearly.

This response is perfectly normal but it makes parents feel guilty and frustrated. In addition, the longer poor sleep routines exist, the bigger toll it takes on marital relationships, personal effectiveness and overall family interactions.

Corrective measures for bedtime and sleep issues are NOT intuitive. In fact, the opposite is true: most of the intuitive approaches that parents use to “correct” bedtime problems actually make them worse.

There are several factors that impact bedtime and sleep battles, however, to correct them for the long term, we have to understand:

  • the psychology behind the child’s behavior
  • why our corrective measures aren’t working
  • how we contribute to the problem

In this article, I want to address the AMOUNT of sleep children are getting. Most children (toddlers through teens) get less sleep than they need for healthy physical development. Insufficient sleep also negatively impacts child’s behavior, social relationships and school performance.

Parents often think that because the child is having trouble going to sleep, she must not be tired. This is not the case!

Usually, we’ve missed the “window of opportunity” for when their bodies want to go to sleep and they become agitated and “wound-up”. Once we miss the “window”, it is very difficult to get the child calm enough to go to sleep.

The best first-step is to begin making bedtime 30 minutes to 1 hour earlier than the current routine and making sure the routine is the same throughout the week. Remember, their bodies don’t know the difference between a weeknight and the weekend. A consistent bedtime is critical to resolving the sleep issues.

The chart below is from Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., Author of Sleeping Through The Night. It lists the average amount of sleep a child needs for each age.

Age Average Total Sleep Needed

2 years – 11.5 to 15.5 hours*
3 years – 11 to 14 hours*
4 years – 10 to 13 hours*
5 years – 10 to 12.5 hours* (May not include nap)
6 years – 10 to 11.5 hours
7 years – 9.5 to 11.5 hours
8 years – 9.5 to 11.5 hours
*Includes combination of nap and nighttime sleep

Take an honest assessment of how much sleep your child is getting versus how much he needs.

In addition to making sure we’re clear on our child’s true sleep needs and adjusting bedtimes, there are a variety of other strategies we need to implement – including removing the PAYOFF that kids get from bedtime battles.

Please check out “The Bedtime Blues” training.

  1. I wanted to share this article as I read it but got to the end without a solution. I can’t share the article with friends who have the same frustration without a solution as that would just add to the frustration.

  2. Very informative post. My children were not getting the right hours of sleep during school days. But during weekends I make it a point that they sleep 10-11 hours. You are right everyday routine is very important because their body will adjust fast.

  3. Hi there, wondering if for a 2/3 year old, that sleep time includes nap or not? My daughter usually sleeps from 9pm-7am then gets a 2 hours nap…we are actively working on getting her into bed earlier but due to our family schedule, we feel it is also important to spend time as a family each night. This means bedtime is later in our house…what are your thoughts on family time versus sleep? We rarely wake her unless we are trying to get her back on track and sometimes we skip nap in order to get the bedtime routine back on track. Thoughts on this? I also own a food business geared towards infants and toddlers and am wondering how sleep affects eating habits?
    Owner of Half Pint Palates